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Common SEO Mistakes – Strategy & Structure (pt. 1 of 2)

To avoid common SEO mistakes, take an 80/20 approach (Pareto Principle). 80% of the issues come from 20% of the mistakes. Here are 5 to avoid with your strategy & structure.

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by Eric Sharp

Ensuring your website can be found by search engines is an ongoing challenge.

Google updates its algorithm 500-600 times a year and say they have around 200 different ranking factors. At times, I even find myself wondering if I’m keeping up with the latest SEO trends, guidelines, and recommendations for maximum optimization.

Common SEO Mistakes

To ensure that you’re approaching SEO diligently and avoiding its common mistakes, I recommend taking an 80/20 approach (Pareto principle). 80% of the issues come from 20% of the mistakes. That’s good — no, GREAT — news, because if you can avoid a handful of mistakes, you’ll be avoiding 80 percent of the issues that come from them!

To uncover these common SEO mistakes, I’ve outlined five of them below that are related to a website’s strategy and structure and five more in part 2 (content and links).

1. More than one canonical URL for each page

Improper URL Canonicalization (pronounced: "ca-non-ick-cull-eye-zay-shun") is an SEO mistake that Google evangelist Matt Cutts wrote about back in 2006, yet, it continues to be a destructive issue for websites of all sizes.

Search engine bots (aka “web spiders” or “web crawlers”) prefer a single version of a URL. It’s easier to find, index, and determine what the page is about.

Let’s dissect this homepage’s four different URL versions:

  • www.website.com
  • website.com/
  • www.website.com/index.html
  • website.com/home.php

I know what you’re thinking — “they’re all the same page.” Yes and no.

All these URLs could load the same content. However, a bot will see this homepage as four different pages. This confuses search engines because they’re unsure of which version to index, so they decide on your behalf (for better or worse).

2. Page URLs are not SEO-friendly

Unlike URL Canonicalization, this mistake is easy to diagnose. Search engines (and people!) love clean URLs.

Not SEO friendly

SEO friendly!

SEO friendly URLs do a faster and more efficient job of articulating what a page’s content is about — which will help your content rank faster and improve click-through rate in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page).

Moz has an extremely helpful URL Cheat Sheet if you want to nerd out and learn the anatomy of a URL.

3. Spreading keywords on every single page

This is the most-common SEO mistake I see companies making today. It comes laced with re-work down the road because it contradicts a fundamental aspect of SEO.

Keyword optimization is about targeting SPECIFIC pages, not spreading keywords to ALL pages.

If your website is trying to rank for “chicago bears tshirts”, you don’t optimize for that keyword sitewide — you target a single page.

Website ‘B’ will outrank Website ‘A’ for “chicago bears tshirts” because it’s targeting the keyword through a specific page (highlighted in green).

This approach may seem to defy logic (the more keywords everywhere, the better), but precision is the name of the game.

4. Lengthy Meta Title with keyword stuffing

A page’s meta title shows up as the big blue links on the search engine results page (sample below). A meta title is one of the most-important elements to SEO because it impacts rankings, readability, click-through rate and shareability with external websites.

Stuffing keywords in the meta title tag and being overly wordy are toxic (yet common) SEO mistakes. Writing a concise and non-spammy meta title involves keeping it between 50 to 69 characters (with spaces) and ensuring it’s compelling and actionable.

Here’s an example of a lengthy (over 69 characters) and spammy meta title:

  • Chicago Bears TShirts | Buy Chicago Bears T-Shirts | Best Chicago Bears T-Shirts Online Today

And here’s a concise (precisely 64 characters) and non-spammy meta title:

  • Buy Chicago Bears TShirts - Free Shipping on every Bears T-shirt

Which one would you click on?

5. Optimizing for the Wrong Keyword

IKEA image credit

Targeting the wrong keyword is a lot like using particle board ‘M’ instead of ‘N’ when assembling an IKEA bookcase – every subsequent step is, unfortunately, negated and the result won’t be pretty. (I might be speaking from IKEA experience here.)

To avoid optimizing for the incorrect keywords, ask yourself these three questions before finalizing your strategy:

  1. Will this keyword drive relevant and qualified traffic?
  2. Does this keyword generate enough searches per month?
  3. Can I expect a top 10 ranking with this keyword? (in other words, is this keyword too competitive?)

If you can answer ‘Yes’ to all three questions, then you’re on your way to avoiding this SEO mistake with your keyword strategy!

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Continue reading Part 2

Next up I uncover five other common SEO mistakes within the areas of a website’s content and links.

Read part 2

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